Grounded in Phuket

AT LEAST nine Yamba people have been left out of pocket due to last week's Air Australia collapse. One group had to fly to three destinations on a 50-hour journey to get home from Phuket.

The flight from Phuket to Brisbane normally takes about nine hours but Matthew Pavlich, his sister Madeleine and two friends were forced to change plans when they heard the news last Friday, the day they were due to fly home with Air Australia.

"Madeleine told me that Air Australia had gone bankrupt and I thought they were joking," Mr Pavlich said yesterday in Yamba.

"We were meant to fly out that afternoon but we got down to the airport straight away to try and sort it out.

"There were signs up at the airport saying Air Australia were bankrupt and pretty much you're on your own."

Mr Pavlich said about 500 pass- engers were stranded at Phuket airport on Friday.

"We heard that they were flying people from the Australian Embassy in Bangkok down and Jetstar people too," he said.

"Jetstar were the only ones putting their hands up and saying they'd help; they said they'd offer us flights for the same price as what we booked."

But there were no extra flights, just vacancies on existing flights - about 80 seats all weekend.

"Some people were paying up to $2000 a ticket to fly home on Thai Airways.'

But Mr Pavlich's group heard about a plan from fellow travellers and decided to follow suit.

"We went to the internet cafe at the airport and tried to book a way home through Jetstar.

Madeline said it was impossible to book online, so she phoned her mother in Yamba and she booked the Jetstar flights over the phone.

"We flew from Thailand to Singapore, waited nine hours, then on to Bali, where we waited 13 hours, and from Bali to Darwin for four hours, and then from Darwin to Brisbane."

The convoluted trip cost $800 each and luckily Mr Pavlich had his mother's credit card to draw upon.

"We all ran out of money ... there are still a heap stuck over there."

Mr Pavlich said he was due to fly home to Canberra today after spending time with his family.

Other Yamba residents affected include friends Nathan Rheinberger, Laurie Urquhart and Kyle Birang who had paid $860 each for their flights to Bali in April.

The trio booked the flight a fortnight ago and paid cash at a local travel agent which means the chances of a refund are remote.

The Air Australia website yesterday advised that customers were entitled to a refund of their flights and people should contact their credit card company for a possible "chargeback". Those who paid by cash are advised to see if their travel insurance policy cov- ered insolvency or to contact administrators KordaMentha,, to register as a creditor.

Travel industry sources within the Valley said many other local residents were affected.

Corey Bertalli from Grafton Travel said none of his clients had been affected by the collapse because the agency had avoided booking with Air Australia when travel insurers refused to cover the airline.

Do you know anyone stuck overseas because of the Air Australia collapse? Email

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